Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Fond Farewell

My dad’s service honored both him and God. Many of his friends have already gone before him, or were too ill to attend the service. Others came to Mom’s service to support Dad, but these same people didn’t really know me, so they didn’t come. The people there were almost all people I knew well and I was really touched by who came. My aunt, his sister, of course. Cousins from Santa Paula. My cousin, Jon, flew in from Japan. Jon is funny and smart and has great stories. It was a joy to see him. Parents of students who didn’t even know dad were there. A friend from Bakersfield came and brought beautiful flowers. Dad’s dear nurse, who is my friend. Work friends. Church friends. Friends. Pastor Paul preached from Psalm 92 saying that Dad was like a cedar of Lebanon bearing fruit until the end of his life. This passage fit my dad well. Our friend/pastor from Turkey co-officiated. He had a special relationship with Dad. Brenna and Molly are both great writers and shared stories about their grandfather. Matt read Brenna’s words since she is out of the country. I really missed Brenna. I really miss my dad. Brenna will come home. Dad's in his permanent home.  

Stop reading here, unless you have nothing better to do. This may be only interesting to me.

Here's what I said about dad: 

At a time like this everyone says great things about their dads, but my dad was the absolute best dad. We had a special Dad-daughter relationship, and I will truly miss him.

At his graveside service we read The Prayer of St. Francis that he had wanted read: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. One week after he died I was in Assisi, Italy where St. Francis was from. My dad truly was an instrument of peace. One of the creeds he lived by was “give the other person the better end of the deal.” He almost never got angry with people and I’ve seen him raise his voice only a couple of times my entire life. He worked in the cut throat brokerage business which, it seems to me, would make you enemies, but no one ever said a bad word about my dad. The bible says to pray for your enemies, but I think the only enemies dad had were those evil people who were trying to discredit Richard Nixon.

He had a love affair with the automobile. He cried hard on his seventh birthday when he had asked for a real Austin car and didn’t get it. He was given a brand new Studebaker on his 16th birthday. Once he thought it would be fun to drive the family car, a Mercury down the ski jump in Rochester to see what would happen. He was a daredevil on the road. He could tell you the date of any event in his life by remembering what car he had at the time.

Another love was airplanes. He loved to fly. He would take us kids up for flights and when I was little I thought my dad could magically make the city grow smaller and smaller when we were in the plane. When I was ten he let me take the stick for the first time. He told me to pull back on it all the way, so I did and the plane went almost vertical and immediately stalled. The engine cut out and the plane started falling from the air. He knew, but I didn’t that the plane would regain power and straighten out, and everything would be fine. I was scared to death, and I looked over at him and he’s laughing.

On my 16th birthday he surprised me and took me out of school and took me to the DMV to get my driver’s license.

In 1975 Dad was one of the first patients ever to have heart bypass surgery.  It was a scary time for us. Open heart surgery was not routine like it is now. The doctors mended his heart, but it was broken again when he found out his pilot’s license had been revoked b/c of the surgery. He spent a lot of time  and money in court trying to  argue that he was healthier after the surgery than before, but he was never able to get back his license to fly. He became one of the first patients ever to have a second heart bypass and then had a third. The head of cardiology at St. John’s said he had never met anyone who had 16 bypasses. He had few arteries left in his arms and legs!

Throughout my life whenever I went through a rough patch Dad was there. I still have letters he wrote me with his beautiful calligraphy encouraging me and telling me how brilliant and talented I was. He saw me as a success when I couldn’t see it myself.

When I was a small child, he would leave for work at 5:30 in the morning. I would get up in the dark and eat breakfast with him, and then go back to sleep when he left, just so I could be with him. When he moved to Oxnard, Dad and I started having lunch every Monday, and we would talk politics, and investing and he would tell me stories of how he landed his plane on the railroad tracks, or of doing donuts on the ice in his Chevy in New York. He had travelled so much, and I loved to hear him talk about something that happened while he was in Estonia, or Poland or Thailand. He read a thick book every day, and always had something interesting to talk to me about. When Mom was in mental hospitals three different times, we were both devastated and became close allies. Although I shed many tears through those times, the time spent with Dad made it endurable. To have someone to suffer with made the anguish bearable.

On October 20 he had a massive heart attack and soon after that he came to live with me. There have been some pretty terrible times because I’ve called 911 ten times since then. If I never have to sit on a plastic chair in an emergency room again it will be too soon. But there have been wonderful times, too. So many times I’d come home from school, and he acted happier than a Golden Retriever greeting his master:  “How was school, Honey? Did Shelby get that job she wanted? Did Michael finally turn in his paper?” He told me over and over what a great daughter I was and how blessed he was to have me. He saw only people’s good sides, and sought out the best in everyone.

He told me how he’d gotten to do everything he ever wanted to do and if he died soon, he knew where he was going. His worst fear was not that he would die, but that he wouldn’t be able to drive again. To show you what a considerate dad I have—the escrow closed on his house a week before he died. He had already gone through his possessions and paperwork with me, and sold the grand piano and arranged for the museum to take the antique typewriters. Also, if he had died even one day later, I would not have been able to go to Italy. He was just the best dad to the very end. 

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